Climate Change in coastal areas of Pakistan

April 30, 2014


By: Syed Muhammad Abu Baker- Nation

These days climate change is a global issue impacting the lives of millions of people forcing them to migrate to other areas indicating that the phenomenon is real and is bound to affect the rest of those unaffected by it today.

According to the Global Climate Risk Index 2014, climate change’s most apparent impacts can be seen in developing or least developed countries.

Pakistan, which enjoys four seasons and mild temperatures is blessed with 1,000km of coastline providing livelihood opportunities to millions of people adjoining these areas but climate change has threatened their lives due to frequent and intensive monsoons and lack of coastal resilience to cyclones (Phet 2011).

According to German Watch Institute, Pakistan was not included in the Long-Term Climate Risk Index (1993-2012) which clearly shows that it wasn’t a disaster hit country but the Climate Risk Index (CRI) for 2012 ranked Pakistan at number 3 as the most affected country by climate change revealing that inappropriate decision making of the government, ineffective planning and over-exploitation of natural resources causing billions of dollars in damage and driving the economically unstable country further into poverty.

It has been observed that countries most affected by climate change contribute very little amounts to CO2 emissions and the major contributors are developed countries which during the industrialization period released vast amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere thus affecting the course of nature. This affected Pakistan as well, however it contributes very little to global green house gasses emissions, as on a per capita basis it ranks 135 in the world.

The Fifth Assessment Report by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggested that earth is in deep trouble and clearly stated that emissions should be reduced alongwith investing in adaptation to climate change for sustainable future.

Scientists have commented that floods in Pakistan (2010, 2011, 2012) are the result of climate change but if proper adaptation measures had been taken, their devastation could have been reduced greatly. It has been observed that Pakistan was never a disaster-prone country and received adequate rainfall and seasonal temperatures throughout the year, but as time passed the frequency of natural calamities increased, which highlights the fact that human activities have led the whole country to this point.

Climate change in Pakistan has increased the average annual temperature by 0.120C and the annual rise in sea level by 1.1 mm causing more rainfalls, sea intrusion, impacting agricultural output and extreme flooding.

It has been observed that people adjoining northern and coastal areas of Pakistan are witnessing the worse impacts of climate. Unawareness, ignorance and over-exploitation of natural resources are some causes and deforestation is one of the major causes for increasing climate change impacts. Over the past few years deforestation in Pakistan has increased at a fast pace of 2.1% per annum, the highest in Asia, followed by mangrove forest depletion at an alarming rate of 2.3 % annually.

Pakistan is blessed with one of the largest semi-arid mangroves in the world but has ignored their ecological importance for long which has caused great damage. Mangrove cover helps in protecting coastal communities from harsh climatic conditions as they serve as a shield from storms and floods and also serve as a potential habitat for shrimps and marine life, also economically supporting fishermen communities. Using mangroves for fuelwood for domestic and commercial purposes, camel grazing, pollution from industrial effluents and reduced fresh water supply to the forests are some of the main reasons for reduced mangrove cover in Pakistan. Fast depleting mangrove forests have made the coastal areas of Pakistan vulnerable to harsh climatic conditions especially cyclones, floods, sea level rise and the impacts of change.

World Wide Fund for Nature-Pakistan (WWF-Pakistan) through its Indus for All Programme, in order to make coastal areas of Pakistan resilient to climate change, planted 7,500 ha of mangroves in coastal areas of Sindh and an additional 550 ha as part of its project Bulding Capacity on Climate Change in Coastal Areas of Pakistan (CCAP). These plantations aim to help mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Rab Nawaz, Director Sindh, WWF-Pakistan said, “We’re losing land due to climate change because of sea level rise. Damage by floods is the main problem creating an immense problem for nearby communities. The cost of flooding is USD 12 billion, equivalent to the cost of building the Bhasha Dam.” Increase in temperature gradually affects the ecosystem, however the problem is different in every area. In the northern areas the problem is glacial lake outburst floods. In Sindh, due to climate change mangroves are disappearing, even land is being lost, as millions of hectares of land is lost due to sea intrusion.

Other than the coastal areas, wetlands of Pakistan are also facing the impacts of climate change. Migratory birds which inhabit these wetlands have now changed their patterns hence affecting the entire ecosystem.

In the 2012-2013 budget, the government of Pakistan allocated Rs. 135 million for the Climate Change Division which was then reduced to Rs. 58.8 million in the 2013-2014 budget resulting in a reduction in allocated budget of over 50%. This budget cut exposes the government’s relaxed attitude in mitigating the impacts of climate change, also portraying a negative image to international donors. The current budget is not enough to mitigate climate change impacts as the loss due to these changing weather patterns have resulted in billions of dollars of loss. The 2012 floods alone have cost the government USD 6 billion, which clearly states that natural calamities are hampering the future development of Pakistan.

According to Anwar Rashid, Secretary, Environment Protection Department (EPA), “Climate change is affecting our agriculture and our resources and we need to pay special attention to environmental issues. We need to create a better environment for generations to come.”

The need of the hour is to integrate climate change policies in the planning and development of the country with emphasis on mitigation and adaptation efforts in coastal areas of Pakistan. The government should also take steps for the rehabilitation of coastal communities so that they are protected from environmental catastrophes and are able to face risks associated with possible floods and droughts appropriately. With increasing awareness on environmental issues it can be hoped that in future, Pakistan’s coastal areas will become more resilient to climate change and the coastal communities will be able to minimize possible threats.

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